Vast amounts of the country's forests raw material in the form of logs have been looted and sold at less value than they are worth.
An Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) study shows that Burma's illegal log exports ere worth nearly US$6 billion a year - four times the combined 2013-14 education and health budgets for the entire country.
Official export figures for 2000-13 accounted for only 28% of all recorded imports of Myanmar (Burma) logs by other countries - suggesting that 72% of log shipments were illicit.
Faith Doherty, EIA Forest Campaign Leader, said: "The Government's official data on forestry and timber exports reveals endemic illegal logging and timber smuggling - crimes only possible through institutional corruption on a huge scale."
Global buyers reported 22.8 million m3 of log imports from Myanmar, 16.4 million m3 more than claimed in official export statistics. If loaded into freight containers laid end to end, the unauthorised exports would stretch 2.3 times the length of the Irrawaddy River.
Even after discounting log transits across Myanmar's land border with China, which the Government deem illegal, officially recorded export volumes were just 38% of recorded imports.
EIA also found official harvest volumes over the period constituted merely 53% of reported imports of Myanmar logs, resulting in a 47% illegal logging rate across the country for exports alone.
The rot must go to the top
"EIA research shows that these crimes have been occurring throughout the country, including in areas fully under the control of the Myanmar Timber Enterprise", said Doherty.
"By proposing a log export ban from April 1, 2014, the Government of Myanmar is acknowledging that vast amounts of the country's forests raw material in the form of logs have been looted and sold at less value than they are worth. The log export ban in itself is just not enough. More needs to be done."
The figures come in the EIA's new briefing Data Corruption: Exposing the true scale of logging in Myanmar, which scrutinises official figures on log harvests and timber exports over the past 15 years.
EIAis calling on the Government of Myanmar to:
- vigorously enforce the log export ban effective from April 1, 2014;
- significantly increase transparency in the management of forest resources;
- stop favouring established cronies in forest resource allocation;
- ensure civil society involvement in the planned restructuring of the Forestry Ministry;
- investigate and prosecute companies or Government officials involved in illegal logging and timber smuggling.
English language version of Data Corruption: Exposing the true scale of logging in Myanmar.
Burmese language version of Data Corruption: Exposing the true scale of logging in Myanmar.